[How I Work] Sharing, supporting, and sustaining a fundraising record-breaker

Written by: Marc Schultz
Published on: Feb 28, 2017

As Director of Marketing and Communications for GiveMN since 2015, Tom Zimmerman spends his time helping Minnesota nonprofits and schools take their fundraising efforts to the next level, empowering them to take full advantage of GiveMN’s online crowdsourcing platform and one of the country’s biggest fundraising events, Give to the Max Day. With just five people on staff, GiveMN inspires citizens to donate millions of dollars in a single 24-hour period each year—including a record-breaking 2016 haul of $20.1 million, benefitting more than 6,000 organizations—and keeps them giving all year round. As one of the nation’s first crowdfunding and “giving day” initiatives, GiveMN has also inspired other states to rally their own online donor platforms and yearly giving bonanzas.

Tom Zimmerman_HIW

My role, the short version: Messaging guru, communicating with two distinct audiences—nonprofits and donors—about how they can plug into our mission to ignite generosity and grow giving.

My role, the long version: I communicate via email and social media, through traditional media, and in-person, to engage the hundreds of thousands of people who have used our platform to make charitable donations. I get them thinking about “smart giving,” what’s going on with Minnesota nonprofits, and the features of our site—especially our peer-to-peer fundraising tools, which can turn one-time donors into fundraisers. I also communicate with the 10,000-plus nonprofits and schools who use our site to raise money, giving them news about our platform and Give to the Max Day, providing best practices and the latest trends around online fundraising, and helping with any issues that pop up. Like everyone on the team, I also help manage Give to the Max Day—though it takes place in November, putting on a great day is a six-month effort.

Most rewarding part of my job: Seeing the results of our service for the hardworking nonprofit sector of Minnesota. Even better than breaking fundraising records is seeing who it benefitted: 6,000 nonprofits this year, representing every Minnesota county and cause area. Nonprofits of all shapes and sizes, even ones that typically find themselves on opposite sides of current events, are sitting next to each other on our leaderboards.

What I’m working on now: We’re always looking at last year’s Give to the Max Day for lessons to help plan this year’s event. We are currently looking for ways to build organizations’ capacity around online fundraising year-round. Up to this point we’ve been focused on developing more generalized resources, but we’ve seen that working intensely with a particular organization can make a real difference. We want to build a model around what we’re learning, so we can scale a deeper approach with a broader range of organizations.

Tom Zimmerman_HIW2

How I got here: I studied broadcast journalism as an undergraduate, but as an intern at a Virginia station, I saw how hard people had to work just to get to a small market. I went back to school for public relations, but got out at the same time as the economic downturn, and couldn’t find a communications job. I decided to make a big bet on an Americorps assignment in the communications department at the Georgia Center for Nonprofits, and spent my year there soaking up everything I could. They hired me to stay on full-time, in part to help manage their new Georgia Gives Day initiative, which took Give to the Max Day as a model. I got to know the staff at GiveMN by asking them for advice, and after a year and a half saw that they were hiring. The role was exactly what I liked doing—working directly with both nonprofits and donors—so I looked into the Twin Cities, considered the change it would mean, and decided to apply. Even though I had an in with the staff, it was still a very competitive hiring process. After a number of interviews and visits, I managed to get the role.

Who best fits this position: Someone who is a good writer and a good in-person communicator. Working with a small team requires someone who’s nimble, who can move from one thing to another efficiently. A basic understanding of vendors and how to negotiate with them for the projects we need to shop out, but also the ability to pick up the basics of things like HTML, Photoshop, and InDesign, so we don’t have to shop out every little thing.

How my teammates support each other: With such a small team, we’re not just committed to working closely together—we like it, too. Knowing each other’s strengths and weaknesses, we can count on mutual support: For instance, my colleagues know that I’m still building my skillset in visual communication, so someone is ready to take 15 minutes to jump in and do something in Photoshop that might take me two hours to research and execute. It’s a truly collaborative environment: Working in an open office, everyone is comfortable shouting over the cubicle walls if we need help or just want to make each other laugh.

More than a one-day giving extravaganza, GiveMN ignites generosity and grows giving year-round, using creative ideas and innovative technology to connect more people with more causes than ever before. You can follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

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